Thursday, January 3, 2008
It started with the Monroe Doctrine, but it was the timeless phrase President Theodore Roosevelt that nicely summarized Americas foreign policy towards South America... or was supposed to anyway. In reality, American foreign policy towards South America is complicated and can be legitimately argued as non-existent, at least the public coherent and explained policy anyway. It was around 1950 the American foreign policy attention span waned in South America, and arguably it continues to be poorly defined.
Ironically, it was 1950 when the US Navy folded the 4th fleet into the US 2nd fleet in Norfolk. Is that a coincidence? Perhaps, but the Great White Fleet started its journey by going to South America first, and that wasn't an accident. Today South America doesn't look anything like the South America of the Monroe Doctrine, President Theodore Roosevelt, or 1950. Today, South America is an emerging economic market the US needs to get engaged with diplomatically, and this little bit of news reflects that reality.
U.S. 4th Fleet, which hunted submarines in the South Atlantic during World War II until it was dissolved almost six decades ago, is on its way back.
The new 4th Fleet would cover a similar area, with plans to operate from Naval Station Mayport, Fla., and oversee operations in Central and South America. The commander of Naval Forces Southern Command would also be the head of 4th Fleet, Navy officials said.
The fleet would not own any ships. Instead, it would operate in the same way Navy forces do in the Persian Gulf region. In U.S. Central Command, one admiral serves as head of both Naval Forces Central Command and 5th Fleet. Therefore, the dual-hatted admiral in charge of 4th Fleet and NavSouth would be under the commander of Southern Command.
And when will the 4th Fleet stand up?
The decision to stand up the fleet, Navy officials said, is within the scope of the chief of naval operations, as changing ship home ports are. But a final go-ahead is still a ways off, though sources say the Navy’s leadership is actively working the issue and strongly in favor of the idea.
A final decision will not come until the Navy has briefed military and congressional leaders.
Sounds like we are still a few years off. We are not sure what to make of this, and expect, like AFRICOM, there is more to this story than what the early press stories reveal. Our initial reaction to this bit of news was sarcasm. Is this an inside move to create more staff positions? The thought crossed our mind, but it is more likely there is some good logic here.
There are regional players that can no longer be ignored. Brazil, for example, shouldn't be ignored. Brazil in 20 years could very easily be what India or China is today, a rising economic and military power. Brazil has a lot of problems to overcome to realize that potential, but the potential most certainly exists and the US is wise not to ignore it, and would be very wise to get engaged with Brazil on the level sooner rather than later.
Another regional player is Venezuela. Huge Chavez may be the darling of western socialists, but his military moves, particularly in regards to building paramilitary forces and questionable policies with assault rifles is troubling. Should Venezuela actually follow through and put 9 AIP submarines in the Caribbean Sea that would be a valid national security concern for a 4th fleet.
It is hard to tell exactly what the reasons are for this move, as it is still early in the process. Regardless, there has been a lot of attention given to South America, between Global Fleet Stations, hospital ship deployments, humanitarian missions, and Partnership deployments the Navy has certainly remained engaged without a numbered fleet.